Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has reportedly been stripped of some of his powers and has not attended a series of high-profile ministerial and diplomatic meetings in the kingdom over the last fortnight, fueling speculation of a growing rift between the controversial prince and the king.
The Guardian reported on Monday that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced the restriction on his son’s powers to a group of senior ministers earlier last week.
Bin Salman was not present at two of the most recent weekly cabinet meetings and other high-profile talks with visiting dignitaries, including one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to the report.
An unnamed spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the Saudi crown prince’s absence, adding, however, that no such meeting had been planned in advance.
The report added that bin Salman — also known as MbS — had also missed a meeting with top economic and finance officials, talks between the king and the grand mufti, a meeting with the head of the World Health Organization as well as meetings with the Lebanese premier and ambassadors from India and China.
Additionally, he has not appeared in any of the latest photographs or press statements, apart from last week’s telephone conversation with the Japanese prime minister, the report said.
A source familiar with the workings of the Saudi royal court told The Guardian that there was genuine surprise at some of the recent “no-shows” by the heir to the kingdom’s throne.
King Salman had asked his son to be present at the latest cabinet meeting, but he failed to attend in a move that incurred his father’s displeasure, according to the report.
It further noted that one of King Salman’s trusted advisers, Musaed al-Aiban, had informally been appointed to oversee investment decisions on the king’s behalf.
Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that there have been “growing signs of a potentially destabilizing rift between the king of Saudi Arabia and his heir” since the gruesome assassination in October 2018 of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riydah’s Istanbul consulate, which the CIA has reportedly concluded to have been ordered by MbS.
The rift dramatically intensified over bin Salman’s two major personnel decisions, which he had made only hours after his father left Saudi Arabia for an official visit to Egypt in February, the report said.
Those decisions included the appointment of a female ambassador to the US for the first time and that of his full brother Khalid bin Salman to the defense ministry, according to the report.
The young prince was appointed the first in line to the Saudi throne by King Salman in June 2017.
Since then, he has engaged in a string of radical economic and social projects in a bid to portray himself as “reformist.” But those projects have been widely seen to be more about consolidating his personal power and less about bringing about real change to Saudi Arabia.
He has been involved in an aggressive push to purge royals and businessmen critical of his policies under the banner of an “anti-corruption campaign.”
Bin Salman’s international reputation has been badly tarnished by his role in Khashoggi’s murder.
The crown prince has also come under fire globally for the war crimes committed during the protracted Saudi war on Yemen, an issue which has also been a bone of contention between MbS and his father, according to The Guardian’s March 5 report.